With comic conventions back on the agenda once again, we take a look at some of the books appearing at this year’s Thought bubble comic festival, which include the 4th volume of Dan Butcher renowned superhero webcomic, Vanguard.
Publisher: Dan Butcher Comics
Writer: Dan Butcher
Artist: Dan Butcher
Price: Available to view at vanguardcomic.com
Vanguard Vol. 4 continues Dan Butcher’s British Superhero story with the resistance group known as Daedelus having recruited fleeing heroes such as Wolfshead, Wytch, Spitfire and more as the war with the secret group controlling the United Kingdom now ramping up. However, when a mission by the heroes to rescue one of their own leads to unknown consequences, old allies and adversaries alike are brought together by Thade and the UK ‘Government’ to fight these ‘terrorist’ forces as part of the all new, all different Vanguard.
Butcher continues to write an enjoyable story as he progressed into the fourth arc, one that seemed quieter than its predecessors but still no less intriguing. This volume certainly felt like something akin to the calm before the storm, as the various pieces were moved into place ready for some big move that is yet to come. Nonetheless, I felt that Butcher continues to build a politically complex, yet captivating world even in this ‘quieter arc’, as more and more of the layers making up this dystopian Great Britain are peeled to reveal a greater depth to his world.
This volume continues to show a lot of homages to 80’s movies, a genre Butcher is well known for his affection towards (mainly via the Awesome Comics Podcast). He uses various tropes from Robocop and it’s remake (particularly in regards to Pendragon’s new attire), the Running Man, the Escape from Movies and even V for Vendetta (which is an 80s graphic novel if not an 80s film so counts in my book!). In fact, I’d argue that this series very much takes its cue from movies of that period due to its satire of Government and politics. Indeed, as the series progresses I get the impression that popular opinion on the current administration’s influence Vanguard’s plot as even the most ludicrous plot points feel strangely familiar.
However, Vanguard seems to be evolving in its plot’s complexity as Butcher pushes things toward a greyer spot, with seemingly black and white characters changing their allegiances, heroes recruiting more villainous personas and even with the titles name being repurposed for a seemingly more nefarious purpose (from our point of view anyway). In fact, Vanguard seems to be continuing as a compelling series, with its only flaw being a lack of explanation to readers both new and returning of who each player is. This is the case with myself who, having not read since Volume Three over a year and a half ago, struggled to remember who the characters were until I was deep into the title.
As for the art, Dan Butcher’s distinctively loud style returns with a vengeance. The entire title continues to have thick lines and vibrant colours, giving it this incredibly bombastic look that is difficult to not notice. It occurred to me during this fourth volume that Butcher’s characters are very exaggerated, giving them a similarity to those drawn by Rob Liefeld. However, unlike Liefeld’s work (apart from the inclusion of feet) the depictions of these characters works in Vanguard as they play into the world’s sense of parody and satire in a much more deliberate way than I’ve seen in any similar style. As such, I truly couldn’t imagine this series looking any way other than it currently does. Of course, nothing in life is perfect and, for this volume, the art’s only issue seems to be the fight scenes which feel a little more chaotic than in the previous releases. As a result, I certainly found some of these action sequences difficult to follow.
While the arc contained within Volume 4 does seem to be ‘quieter’ story wise, this does nothing to change how truly enjoyable Vanguard is and continues to be. With a engrossingly deep storyline which continues to grow and eye-popping visuals which cannot help but get your attention, Dan Butcher continues to produce a terrific comics series which deserves its place amongst the titles leading the charge of British Small Press comics. While it is a series that you need to start from the beginning to get the best out of, if this comic is available to read then you should make it top of your list, because Vanguard by name, Vanguard by nature.